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The U.S. Is Downright Mediocre At The World Baseball Classic

American fans like to think of the U.S. as the home of baseball; they even tried to mythologize it into the game’s place of origin at one point. And, yes, the majority of the game’s best players are from America. But in the World Baseball Classic, arguably the highest-profile event in international baseball, the U.S. is merely ordinary: It’s 10-10 over the tournament’s history, despite playing a relatively weak slate of opponents over the years. What gives?

The WBC has always held more appeal for international players and fans, whose national teams take it far more seriously than the U.S. team does. The U.S. seldom sends its best players to the event, for better (it reduces the risk of key injuries in games that are essentially treated as exhibitions) and worse (it deprives the game of its best players playing on a worldwide stage). That means we won’t be seeing the likes of Bryce Harper and Clayton Kershaw in this year’s Classic, much less living legend Mike Trout.

As a result, the U.S. has gotten mediocre results on the field, far from what might be expected out of a country that still considers itself baseball’s standard-bearer. To get a schedule-adjusted ranking of how countries have performed at the four World Baseball Classics,1 I calculated Sports-Reference’s Simple Rating System (SRS) for every WBC game since the event began in 2006.2 Among the 13 teams that have played double-digit WBC games, the U.S. ranks just seventh — far behind No. 1 Japan, who has dominated the tournament more than any other country.

COUNTRY WINS LOSSES WEIGHTED SRS
Japan 19 7 3.40
South Korea 14 7 1.79
Dominican Republic 14 4 1.49
Cuba 14 8 0.67
Puerto Rico 13 8 0.67
Venezuela 10 7 -0.22
United States 10 10 -0.41
Netherlands 9 10 -1.20
Italy 4 7 -1.49
Mexico 6 9 -2.05
Chinese Taipei 3 9 -3.26
Australia 1 9 -3.73
China 2 8 -6.12
Japan — not the U.S. — dominates the World Baseball Classic

Teams are ranked according to the Simple Rating System (SRS) for all WBC games since 2006, with extra weight applied to games in later rounds.

Source: Wikipedia

National pastime or not, America’s unexceptionalism probably won’t improve until the U.S. starts treating the WBC less like an exhibition event, and more like the international showcase other countries already think it is.

Footnotes

  1. Including 2017’s games, as of March 8.

  2. A few more details: I gave more weight to games that took place in later rounds (first-round games had a weight of 1, second-round games a weight of 2, WBC semifinals a weight of 4 and WBC finals a weight of 8.) I also used a home-field advantage term of +0.16 runs per game, matching what it is in MLB since 2006.

Neil Paine is a senior sportswriter for FiveThirtyEight.

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